Friday, April 10, 2009

Days 5-6, China (PRC)

Day 5- Beijing, PRC
We awoke for our 9:30 check-out just in the knick of time to call home and run out the door. Our first destination of the day was to the Summer Palace also known as the Yihe Tuan or “Gardens of Nutured Harmony”. Besides the beauty of the palace itself, there is the Kunming Lake which is just under three square kilometers. It was actually man made and the soil that was taken out was used to create Longevity Hill.

It was originially called the Garden of Clear Ripples in 1750, but after it was attacked and rebuilt after the Anglo-French invasion of 1860 and after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. It is also a World Heritage Site.

The entrance to the park and palace reminded us a lot of epcot as it was pretty hokey. But once we got to the main palace, with its green and yellow roof tops, it was apparent that this place was architecturally beautiful and unique. Situated on Longevity Hill one could sit amongst the pagodas (circular and rectangular) and view the massive lake with it’s dragon decorated longboats. It was absolutely gorgeous as the red pillars once again accented the green, yellow and blue trimmings. We played around, taking pictures in “meditation stances” before descending the hill and heading onto dragon (they served as the base of the long boat) boats with yellow roof trimmings. It was really cool to see the palace from the water and I once again borrowed Jordan’s long lens.

Our next stop was to this amazing hibatchi buffet. They had more food and options then I have ever seen before it was quite decadent for SAS. I sampled a bunch of dishs from seasoned oysters to banana sushi to shrimp tempora and even some dishes that I didn’t know what the contents were! The place itself was very “hip” with a bright color scheme. After we ate I realized that the lobby had wifi and with my ipod touch in hand I was able to send a few emails.

After everyone had had their fill (it took quite a while, actually) we headed to the “Bird’s Nest” the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. It was a pretty gorgeous and massive structure. It is called the “Birds Nest” because it is basically a hodge podge of steel, which is woven through itself. It was very pretty in person and we once again we took a bunch of pictures. We then went into the stadium, which was packed, quite a contrast to the one in Barcelona that was kind of abandoned.

The 2008 games had these adorable characters which looked like little stuffed animals. They had large scale ones which we happily took pictures with, fighting off the others who wanted to get in (it was actually quite hilarious). From there we moved on to the gift shop, where I could almost hear Dad’s voice going “we throw this type of stuff away”, so you will be happy to know that I did not buy a cute stuffed animal, lol. Brittany bought a few souvenirs for her and her family and then we went back outside to take more pictures.

We walked over to “The Icecube” which is made of steel and plastic. It was pretty cool from the outside. We ran out of time (and didn’t want to pay the entrance fee) to see the inside, but we were quite content to take pictures with the structure which was the highlight.

From there we headed to the bus and went to the Cloths market. Our last market of the trip. I bought Ilana a Buddha chop with her name carved in it and I got Bubbie a magnet, while Brittany bought some LeSportSacs and pearls.

We then headed to the airport (which was very modern, another contrast to Russia which had a very soviet style, old school airport). We took a 747-400 to Shanghai. It was huge. I’m pretty sure we took one to Israel, but it seemed sort of a waste to take a double decker two hours. On the flight the stewardess helped me with my calligraphy practice, bringing me water for the book and helping me get the hang (and meaning) of the characters. It was quite nice and she was very excited to be a “teacher”. By the time we got home it was almost midnight and I was excited to be able to see the Shanghai TV Tower from our room. Sometimes we get the best views!

Day 6-Shanghai

Brittany had to wake up early for a Taiji FDP, while I slept. We met around 8am for breakfast before heading out. We found Perri and Becca and the four of us shared a taxi to the downtown area for about a dollar each. Our plan (Brittany and I) was to go to the Art Muesuem, the park and just walk around exploring the city since we were tired from Beijing.

Unfortunately the Museum was closed due to a special event and we had to scrap that idea. We moved on (a little bitterly, lol) to People’s Park, a beautiful public park full of pink roses, neatly trimmed topiaries and a local people (who make it a habit of blowing their noses onto the street and spitting, gross, but I guess it is their culture).

After walking around and taking pictures for a while I saw two older Chinese women practicing Taiji. Although Brittany had gotten her fill of it, I hadn’t tried it yet so I decided to go up to the women and “ask” (no English) for a lesson. They were quite helpful and funny and we played for quite a while, they weren’t happy with our stances but tried to help us anyway. My chi was centered at times, but when they tried to test us by pushing us (if you have the proper stance and alignment you shouldn’t be able to be pushed over) we both failed pretty miserably. It was quite remarkable to be learning Taiji from to ladies in a park in china and I am confident that I won’t forget it anytime soon.

As we exited the park two young Chinese women (about our age) started chatting us up and told us they were from a nearby province and that they were visiting and asked us if we wanted to go with them to a tea ceremony. Being a good traveler I had already looked up scams on wikitravel and this one seemed to fit the bill. We politely declined their offer and I was a little sad since I was unsure if it was truly a scam. When we returned to the ship later it was apparent that it was and that a lot of people had fell into it, some getting charged over 50 USD for some tea.

After our near run in, we continued out to the busy streets, Shanghai being a bustling city. We walked in and out of shops without much luck our remaining money burning a hole in our pocket. We walked through Nanjing Road, a closed shopping street and I found some hot wheels for my dad at a toy store. Feeling tired we ended up stoping for lunch before exploring side streets. Similar to NYC, many fake bag sellers ran up to us, I kept saying no, but they were quite aggressive. We followed one into their back room (similar to NYC, again) where Brittany bought a LeSportSac. Frustrated that I couldn’t find anything to spend my last 100 Yuan (about 15 dollars) we continued searching the streets.

We ended up stumbling upon a calligraphy shop and I happily bought some colored ink sticks and papers. Purchases complete we hailed a cab and returned, sleepily to the ship.

We took some pictures on the decks with the skyline before passing out for a couple of hours (dock time was early!). We headed to Shabbat and then to Mindy and MickeyG’s room to watch the nighttime skyline (I bought a flexible tripod in China for like 8 dollars so I could take the pictures very well!), the TV Tower a colorful glow with ships passing by.

I really enjoyed China, especially Beijing. Besides the fact that the communist party controls and censors the press, I felt that the country as a whole felt very capitalistic and free. The people seemed happy and taken care of. I’m sure if I had seen more rural areas my opinion would have been VERY different, but the big cities did seem quite progressive. The fact that their economy has been loosened for 30ish years made it a big contrast to Russia where its only been so for 15-20.

Ok, I’m off to explore Japan.

Happy Sailing!

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